In Focus: Pa-lan-te and Double Phantom/EntroP.R.

Exploring history, politics, and culture with Puerto Rican artist Miguel Luciano

SAAM
October 6, 2023
Bicycle sculpture with a neon artwork above it that reads "Pa-lan-te."

Miguel Luciano, Pa-lan-te, 2017, neon, overall: 120 × 24 in. (304.8 × 61 cm), and Double Phantom/EntroP.R., 2017, 1952 Schwinn Phantom bicycles, flags, overall: 120 × 40 × 32 in. (304.8 × 101.6 × 81.3 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by Marianna and Juan A. Sabater, 2020.25.1 and 2020.25.2, © 2017, Miguel Luciano; Photo: Jason Wyche

Multimedia artist Miguel Luciano explores the rich links between history and popular culture. Born in Puerto Rico and raised on the island and in the United States, Luciano fluently interweaves references to both places, exposing the fissures and tensions between the two. He approaches each project like a DJ—conducting historical and primary research and then returning to the studio or community laboratory to remix what he has found. Visitors can see a pairing of his works, Pa-lan-te and Double Phantom/EntroP.R., on display in SAAM’s reimagined galleries for modern and contemporary art

In Double Phantom/EntroP.R., two cherry-red bicycles, decked out with horns and American and Puerto Rican flags, are joined to form one three-wheeled, double-headed creature. Made from the frames of two 1952 Schwinn Phantom bicycles, the work recalls the traditions of Puerto Rican bike clubs in New York as well as commemorates the year of Puerto Rico’s constitution and the beginning of its Commonwealth status. Unable to move forward without also going backwards, Double Phantom / Entro.P.R. embodies a state of political dysfunction in Puerto Rico and calls attention to the paradox of its colonial relationship with the United States. 

View of SAAM gallery.

Installation photography of American Voices and Visions: Modern and Contemporary Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2023; Photo by Albert Ting

Above the bike, the word pa'lante, Spanish slang meaning "forward," glows in neon. The term became famous as the name of a civil rights newspaper in Puerto Rico in the 1960s. In following years, it has evoked Puerto Rican independence and statehood and become a mindset of strength and resilience in the face of hardships, including hurricanes and natural disasters. Paired with bicycle that can go in two directions at once—and so goes nowhere—the word also takes on an ironic meaning. Luciano's sculpture brims with Puerto Rican pride while acknowledging the difficulties that hinder the island's forward motion. 

Based on text created for American Voices and Visions. Rebekah Mejorado contributed to this story.

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